I love working with millennials. They're creative, entrepreneurial, media savvy, purpose-driven and often have a good grasp of life-work balance. When you meet the best ones, you don't want them to ever leave.

What does it take to retain millennials?

As designers of office systems and great work experiences, my studio ran a Design the Work You Love workshop with millennials to figure this out. Seda Evis, our Director of Business and Strategy, captured our insights best:

"Millennials value coherence between the physical workspace and the culture of the organization. They expect to see the office as an extension of the purpose and meaning of work. Although physical comfort is important, it's more than the ergonomic chair and desk setup; it's also about being comfortable in your skin and having the freedom to be yourself."

To create a successful work environment for millennials, as Seda noted you need to do more than just offer a comfortable chair (although that's also a plus!), good coffee and technology. You need to touch their hearts and spirit.

Here are four key learnings that will truly make them feel in their element:

Variety of settings: Curate different kinds of places for different kinds of work.

Greg Parsons is the Vice President behind Herman Millers's Living Office--a user-centered approach to products, places and experiences that inspire and enable people at work. He is also a long time friend and collaborator. I asked him what millennials want at the office. For Parsons, millennials want to move around and choose where they're going to be productive and with whom.

"Millennials were brought up in a time in which creativity and relationships are what define the value of people over machines. Theirs is a culture focused on results, not process. They see the workplace as a community, not just a place to secure their livelihood."

Offer a variety of eclectic places for this generation of workers to choose from--comfortable living rooms, libraries, stand-up tables, outdoor spaces, nooks and crannies--to collaborate, create, contemplate, present. Be comfortable that sometimes these spaces will be outside the office too.

Kitchen: Make the kitchen the heart of your office.

Millennials in our workshop expressed how important it is to bring their whole self to the office. What better way to do this than the activities of the kitchen--cooking, sharing recipes, eating together, talking, laughing. These activities are also incredibly conducive to spontaneous conversations, organically bringing people who do different things together and exchanging ideas. A perfect recipe for innovation.

Products of Design, the graduate design school at SVA, has an amazing kitchen at the center of its studios. Architectural firm Snøhetta (they designed the September 11 Memorial Museum) has people enter their New York offices from the kitchen rather than a reception.

Note: Cindy Allen (more on her below) had these 3 cool kitchen examples: LinkedIn NY has a lounge-y speakeasy designed by M Moser; Sony NY has a enormous cafe designed by Studios; and the super chic kitchen for the headquarters of the Pritzker Group designed by HOK. Check them out for inspiration.

Workshop spaces: Instead of more meeting spaces, start investing in workshop spaces.

Workshops are places of vertical ideation for a generation that truly understands the power of collaboration. Alex Osterwalder, inventor of the Business Canvas, says it best:

"For me the wall is the new desk. Without large wall spaces I can't do knowledge/creative work."

Here are the ideal ingredients for a workshop space: lots of vertical surfaces (white boards, tack-able walls, easels and sticky pads, 4X8' foam core boards, blackboards), projector and screen or a large monitor, lots of markers, erasers, mobile tables you can move around and change according to the number of people, break out tables and stools (or sofas and lounge chairs) for your team to ideate in smaller groups of 2-3 or just to relax and take a creative pause.

I find that the best workshop spaces have daylight, and better yet, an open vista. Somehow they communicate openness of mind and a connection to the world beyond you. If you're in a room with no windows, put in a library full of books, your symbolic window into the world. And don't forget coffee, tea and a big bowl of M&M's!

Purpose-driven spaces. Millennials want their workplaces to reflect the company culture. How do you express your intangible purpose as a tangible experience?

We visited Kelty, maker of outdoor camping and adventure products, for a meeting last summer in Colorado. They met us at their lobby and then motioned us to an outdoor tent, with coolers and camp chairs in their hands. We sat under the tent, ate organic popsicles and talked, with crickets and birds in the background. Message: our purpose is to help you have a great outdoors experience. Even when we're meeting. Simple, but true to their brand and purpose.

At the other end of the spectrum is GE's Design Center. Their co-creation center is designed literally as a Collaboration Machine, with software and hardware that changes the space in real time. Greg Petroff (then GE's Chief Experience Officer, now at Google Cloud) calls its designer David Galullo a genius of culture and space planning. Message: this is a transformational space for people who come up with transformational ideas.

As I was finishing this article I reached out to Cindy Allen, one of my design super heroes. What did she think of millennials at work? Allen thinks that today's office design is all about "joie de vivre"--sprawling sofas, yoga mats galore, and every variety of Ping-Ping table imaginable (trending: ones that turn into conference tables), with a friendly barista presiding over the entire domain. But even more important for her, is the community and strong company culture all that "fun" fosters. "It's all about the human experience".

"As Editor in Chief of Interior Design magazine, I've been publishing the best workspaces for 16 years. It certainly has evolved, become intuitive, and dare I say even cool? (I do!) Funny that millennials may not even realize that today's designed workplace is a luxury their parents couldn't ever even dream of."

Millennials have it good. But we're all benefiting from it too!

Are you a millennial, or work with millennials, and have things to add? Please write to me with what matters to you. I would love to hear from you.

Design the life and work you love.

Published on: Mar 23, 2017